Rockets lose second half lead, eliminated by EMU in MAC SemifinalsWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a battle between the co-champions of this year’s Mid-American Conference West Division, Toledo led for the first 39:33.
They just couldn’t hold on in the last 27 seconds.
The Rockets saw their season possibly end on March 9 when they blew a 10-point lead with 7:45 remaining in a 59-57 loss to Eastern Michigan in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
“I’m still in shock right now,” junior center Yolanda Richardson said. “They just kept hitting key shots, and it just slipped out of our hands. I wish we could rewind it back.”
“It’s incredibly difficult, this is a loss that will stay with you,” UT head coach Tricia Cullop said. “These are probably the most difficult losses, when you lead 99 percent of the game and lose. It’s very difficult to stomach.”
The loss was Toledo’s third of the season to the Eagles, who also eliminated UT in the semifinals last season. The Rockets will now wait to see if they will be invited for the third straight season to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, which they won last season over USC.
“I think there is a great chance we will play in the postseason, but if we don’t it will be a great inspiration to my players that are returning — to value every minute and value every second,” Cullop said. “I hope we live to play again because I think these two seniors and our team deserve it. We will just have to wait and see. Whether our season ends today or after playing in a postseason tournament, it doesn’t change how proud I am.
Toledo dominated offensively, outshooting EMU 48 percent to 32 percent from the field and holding a 45-30 edge on the glass. The Rockets shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, however, committing 27 on the game compared to six by Eastern Michigan.
Richardson led the way for UT on the inside with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting with 10 rebounds. Sophomore Andola Dortch dished out 12 assists but struggled, shooting just 2 of 11 from the field for five points with eight turnovers.
Senior guard Courtney Ingersoll (5 of 9) scored 14 points hitting four three-pointers while classmate Haylie Linn (2 of 8) had six points with eight rebounds and eight turnovers in possibly their final games.
“I could not be more proud of my seniors and their leadership the entire season,” Cullop said. “To lose a marquee player, if you would have said you would lose Naama Shafir, and still win 21 games, I don’t think a lot of people would have believed it but we did that because of their leadership.”
Junior Lecretia Smith also scored in double figures with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and junior Kyle Baumgartner grabbed nine rebounds off the bench.
Eastern Michigan guards Tavelyn James and Natachia Watkins each had 19 points. James, the nation’s second leading scorer, had 10 of the Eagles’ final 18 points and outscored the Rockets 10-6 in the final seven minutes.
“This game was a challenge to know that we deserve to be in the championship,” James said. “We play down to the level of our opponent and I feel tomorrow will be easier because we know what we expect and know what we can do.”
The Rockets will now await word on whether they will get to defend their WNIT crown. A decision will likely be made early next week.